[Book Review] “Player’s Handbook” for Dungeons & Dragons, 5th Edition is a welcome update


Cover to Player's Handbook, A Core Rulebook for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition
Cover to Player’s Handbook, A Core Rulebook for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition

Should you buy this book? Yes. Or wait for the inevitable giftset with the Dungeon Master’s Guide and the Monster Manual.

Should you borrow this book? Of course,but why wouldn’t you want to own it if you’re into fantasy? 

Player’s Handbook: A Dungeons & Dragons Core Rulebook” by Wizards of the Coast (you know, the guys who make Magic cards?) is the first in a series of three core rulebooks for the new edition of the Dungeons & Dragons game (ie, the 5th edition). Don’t run away yet – even if you’re not a gamer, I promise I’ll explain what Dungeons & Dragons is in layman terms.

Dungeons & Dragons is an interactive storytelling game. But it’s ultimately a game, so you need to figure out when someone wins or loses – that’s what the funny dice are for. You can be anything you want to be in the game, in fantasy terms – an elf like Legolas or a stunted human like Tyrion Lannister, a psychotic angelic scribe like Metatron or a ninja turtle like Raphael.

But why is it in it’s 5th edition? Think of Dungeons & Dragons as an OS, and the story and characters you create like the apps you run on the OS (Microsoft Word, for instance). As more people interact with the system, more holes are poked (and resolved), thus necessitating revisions. Also, why does Microsoft make a newer (and better) (hopefully) version of Windows every few years? To make money. Same thing with Dungeons & Dragons.

Or think about the new Monopoly game where you don’t have money but you use credit cards instead – it’s still Monopoly, but it’s more like Monopoly 2nd Edition.

Layout of Player's Handbook, A Core Rulebook for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition
Layout of Player’s Handbook, A Core Rulebook for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition

So back to D&D. Now, the basis for the OS are the three core rulebooks – the Player’s Handbook (for the players), the Dungeon Master’s Guide (for the controller of the game, the one who comes up with the bad guys and stories for the players), and the Monster Manual (which has all the monsters, including the titular dragons). Every edition has these three books as its foundation, but if you’re only a player you’ll need only the Player’s Handbook.

Finally, the editions. D&D 1st Edition & 2nd Edition are like Windows 95 and Windows 98 – classics, but they don’t work too much in today’s context. D&D 3rd Edition is like Windows XP/7, the most popular and easy to use system. D&D 4th Edition is like Windows 8, the radical new departure that nobody wants to use.

And D&D 5th Edition is like Windows 10 – hearkening back to the familiar layout of yore but with the updates and sleekness of a modern edition.

Got that? D&D 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th editions are like Windows 95, 98, 7, 8, 10.

I didn’t buy this book – my friend lent it to me. For some context, I was a 3rd edition player (Windows 7), and my friend was/is a 4th edition player (Windows 8).

I love the book. It’s fired up my imagination in a way that 3rd Edition and 4th Edition never could, and I’ve already joined a trial game and ran a modified, simplified version of it for my friends. I’m in the midst of planning a 13-episode adventure using this new ruleset, and I’ve unfortunately started to monitor the release dates of all the other books.

That’s how awesome I think the book is. It feels user-friendly and readable, but provides plenty of detail if you want to read further. It doesn’t condescend – rather, it aims to stimulate you into creating your own story. It can accommodate literally any game you want – be it on Azeroth, Eternia, or Third Earth, you can play it.

So enough raving. I’m not going to expound on the rules, as I’m pretty sure there are other reviews that go into detail analysing the rules. But I will tell you why you should buy it if you’re a geek (or even slightly into fantasy).

Splash page art of Player's Handbook, A Core Rulebook for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition
Splash page art of Player’s Handbook, A Core Rulebook for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition

Beautiful art

Every other page has art on it, and every chapter is delineated with a full splash page of art. It’s not boring artwork – it shows fantasy characters in various dynamic poses, evoking scenes of grand adventure and wondrous exploration. The backdrops are just as fantastical – castles and cliffs and all manner of unearthly places. Even the cover is evocative – though I would have preferred to see a dragon, a fire giant works as well.

Evocative writing and descriptions

All the art in the world wouldn’t matter if the writing were dull and boring. Although previous editions either read like a textbook or an inaccessible nerd thesis, this version presents the game to you by describing exciting scenarios right out of a fantasy story. It fires up your imagination, acting as a springboard for epic adventures of your own. And that’s what good writing does, doesn’t it? It inspires you to create your very own legend.

Friendly, inviting, playful tone

As mentioned earlier, it’s written in an approachable tone, in a layman language. Game-specific terminology will be bolded and given a thorough explanation, but as far as possible the book sticks to normal words and doesn’t expect you to understand memorise strange terms like THAC0. It’s like reading a normal book! Virtually everything is self-explanatory – a fireball is a ball of fire, and expected it’s magical.

Many options and powers

There’s been this comparison of Dungeons & Dragons to shopping, in that it’s shopping for guys. Why? Because you’re shopping for super powers, and you have a budget (the constraints and limitations of the game). And this book has that in spades – lots and lots of options to create whatever you want, but not such a sprawling mess of powers that you get lost trying to figure out how to walk faster.

Back of Player's Handbook, A Core Rulebook for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition
Back of Player’s Handbook, A Core Rulebook for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition

But, as a book, especially as a book for a game, there were some parts that I thought could have been done better.

Spells lack descriptions

The spells were one department lacking in beautiful descriptions, being rather mechanical in their approach. I would have liked some descriptive visuals to accompany the rather dry text, and give me an idea of how the spells look in practice. However, the descriptions for the spells do have some nice touches like the duration lasting for “a year and a day,” so it’s not a total wash.

Indexing is a bit hard to follow

The indexing at the back was a bit finicky – I couldn’t really find what I need to without some serious effort. In fact, that seems to be the slight problem with organisation in this book – you don’t really know where rule X is supposed to be, because everything has been codified into a few simple mechanics and a single rule governs many things, it takes a fair bit of searching to clarify rules questions.

More splash page art of Player's Handbook, A Core Rulebook for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition
More splash page art of Player’s Handbook, A Core Rulebook for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition

Nevertheless, the 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons “Player’s Handbook” has got a new player hooked for a new generation, and I’m itching to run a game (when I can find the time to).

Anyone up for an Agents of SHIELD style game, set in Faerun? Hit me up!

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